Amazing Women Masters Rower:
Mary Fitzsimons

What rowing moment you are most proud of?
I am proudest of my return to rowing after being away for nearly 30 years since graduating from college.

How has rowing shaped you?
Rowing helped me to focus my thinking and energy in college. It was necessary for me to be able to escape from my studies and focus on something entirely different. Rowing was a type of meditation for me in college. After being away from rowing for nearly 30 years, I have found that rowing once again has helped me find focus. It has been a wonderful escape from the stressors in my life. I find that when I am rowing, I cannot think about anything outside of the boat. My focus is purely on rowing and everything else that has been cluttering my mind fades away. Rowing once again is a type of meditation for me.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome to row your best?
My biggest challenge at this time is fitting rowing into my life. I work full time as an Emergency physician, which means working hectic shifts at various times of the day and night. As I have gotten older, I am more careful about planning my sleep time in relation to my clinical shift times. This makes it difficult to find time on the water to practice. At times it is hard to balance work with training and family life. 

What are the biggest life lessons you’ve learned from rowing?
Learn from your mistakes, but don’t dwell on your mistakes. In a race, if you take a bad stroke, you need to just throw it away, because the next stroke is just as important (if not more so). If you dwell on mistakes without really learning, you can never progress. 

What inspires you to keep rowing?
My inspiration comes from the wonderful feeling I experience in the boat when rowing with others. This is especially the case when I am rowing with the group from my college days, the NDames. I’m suddenly much younger. It’s as if I’m back in college again. It’s wonderful my physical and mental health.

What club or team are you currently rowing with?
The local club with which I am affiliated is Lake Merritt Rowing Club in Oakland, California. I also row with the NDames, which is the group of alumnae from St. Mary’s College and the University of Notre Dame, who were part of the Notre Dame Rowing Club during our college years. 

What do you like most about rowing a single or with others?
I like rowing with others more than rowing a single. I like the sense of synchronized movement when rowing with others. The feeling of the crew swinging together is remarkable and is not something that occurs in any other sport. I feel I work harder when rowing with others as I feel a strong obligation to perform my best for the group. 

What are you currently working towards as a rower? as a competitor?
My goal in rowing is to try to improve my performance as I get older. I know that my strength and endurance will plateau and then decline, so in some ways this is a goal with diminishing returns as I age. However, I know I will always have room to improve my technique.

What advice do you have for other women rowers?
Have fun with this sport. Try not to get hurt, because as you get older, it takes a lot longer to recover. 

If you’d like to share your story in our “Amazing Women Masters Rowers” series, please email

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Author: Vreni Hommes

Why We Row celebrates the unique lives and incredible stories of Women Masters Rowers.